Financier of the Revolution
He isn’t as famous as his friend George Washington, but without Robert Morris, the American colonies’ bold attempt to throw off British rule could never have succeeded.
Robert Morris was born in Liverpool in 1734 and raised by his grandmother while his father worked in the colonies as a tobacco trader. When he was 14, Morris sailed over and began working as an apprentice at an Philadelphia mercantile firm. He shortly became partner, and his reputation and wealth grew quickly.
When the Revolutionary war broke out in 1775, the Continental Congress asked Morris to use his shipping connections and financial acumen to help amass the money and supplies to create an American army and navy. As superintendent of finance, he hounded the states throughout the war for funds to keep soldiers armed and fed. He often used his personal credit to secure loans for the colonial forces, and many ships in his mercantile fleet became “privateers,” attacking British ships and seizing their cargo.
His rivals accused him of war profiteering, but a congressional investigation exonerated and praised Morris. He later played a key role at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, then became one of Pennsylvania’s first senators. He is one of only two men to sign all three of the country’s founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
When George Washington became president, Philadelphia was the temporary national capital.
Morris invited the First Family to move into his mansion, where they lived for Washington’s two terms. Morris and his wife, Mary, moved next door. In his later years, Morris used his fortune to buy millions of acres of frontier land, confident in a real estate boom as the country grew and prospered. A boom eventually came, but too late for Morris, who went bankrupt and spent three years in debtor’s prison, then lived the rest of his life in modest circumstances until his death in 1806. But his contribution to his country was long remembered. Along with Washington and Benjamin Franklin, Morris is one of only three Founding Fathers depicted in “The Apotheosis of Washington,” the 1865 fresco that still decorates the interior of the Capitol dome.